Eliot A. Cohen in the Washington Post:
In 1994, after directing the U.S. Air Force’s official study of the Persian Gulf War, I concluded, “Air power is an unusually seductive form of military strength, in part because, like modern courtship, it appears to offer gratification without commitment.” That observation stands. It explains the Obama administration’s enthusiasm for a massive, drone-led assassination campaign against al-Qaeda terrorists. And it applies with particular force to a prospective, U.S.-led attack on the Syrian government in response to its use of chemical weapons against a civilian population.
President Obama has boxed himself in. He can no longer ignore his own proclamation of a “red line.” The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, in a breach of proper civil-military relations, has publicly telegraphed his skepticism about any use of force in Syria. But the scale, openness and callousness of the Syrian government’s breaking of an important taboo seems likely to compel this president — so proud of his record as a putative war-ender — to launch the warplanes yet again in the Middle East.
The temptation here is to follow the Clinton administration’s course — a futile salvo of cruise missiles, followed by self-congratulation and an attempt to change the topic. It would not work here. A minority regime fighting for its life, as Bashar al-Assad’s is, can weather a couple of dozen big bangs. More important, no one — friends, enemies or neutrals — would be fooled. As weak as the United States now appears in the region and beyond, we would look weaker yet if we chose to act ineffectively. A bout of therapeutic bombing is an even more feckless course of action than a principled refusal to act altogether.
A serious bombing campaign would have substantial targets — most plausibly the Syrian air force, the service once headed by Assad’s father, which gives the regime much of its edge over the rebels, as well as the air defense system and the country’s airports, through which aid arrives from Iran. But should the Obama administration choose any kind of bombing campaign, it needs to face some hard facts.
For one thing, and despite the hopes of some proponents of an air campaign, this would not be surgical. No serious application of air power ever is, despite administration officials’ claims about the drone campaign, which, as we now know, has killed plenty of civilians. A serious bombing campaign means civilian casualties, at our hands. And it may mean U.S. and allied casualties too, because the idea of a serious military effort without risk is fatuous.
Eliot A. Cohen teaches at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. He directed the U.S. Air Force’s Gulf War Air Power Survey from 1991 to 1993.
There’s more and you should read it.
I agree with Mr. Cohen. Lobbing a few cruise missiles into Syria will accomplish nothing except possibly restore the illusion of Obama’s presidential manhood in the eyes of his followers.
If it were only a futile and impotent gesture that would be one thing. But it could easily be the first shot in an escalating series of military actions and reactions leading to war. World War I started with an assassination and then one thing led to another.
The best policy on Syria is one of containment. Keep the fire from spreading until it burns out. There is no need to be in a hurry. We have not been attacked nor have we been threatened. None of our allies has been attacked or threatened.
War is a last resort, and we aren’t there yet.
If we do go to war (and launching non-defensive missile strikes would be an act of war) then it needs to be done with the express prior approval of Congress. Right now approximately 60% of Americans oppose getting involved in Syria. If Obama wants us to go to war then he needs to make the case for it to the American people.